The cup break is a multifaceted period. Some supporters cast complaints, as their teams no longer are contenders in a domestic cup competition. On the other hand, the players and managers surely appreciate the time off, where they can regain their health and heads before continuing on. Some of us, however, are lucky enough to have their teams still alive in a Carabao or FA Cup tournament. Although, the busy schedule can be the demise to some of those squads.
While there are plenty of matches to go around in the FA Cup, the Carabao Cup has reached it’s breaking point. Manchester City and Chelsea will square off in the final on February 24.
How did they get here?
City began their quest to the final in September with a convincing victory over League One side Oxford United. In November, fellow Premier League squad Fulham did not roll over as easy. With a lineup with inexperience sprinkled all around it, Brahim Diaz was able to shine and secure two goals that saw them advance to the quarterfinals. December was a month marked with struggles for City’s league campaign and it was reflected in their cup play, as well. It seemed that after 120 minutes of play, Leicester City may steal one past the reigning champions. Arijanet Muric, a younger keeper, proved himself on a big stage, only allowing one penalty in and Manchester City was able to steal it 3-1 in penalties. As the semifinal draw approached, City, Spurs, and Chelsea all licked their lips as the remaining team to fulfill the round was Burton Albion, a league one side. City were the winners of that lottery and its dream fulfilled in an almost unmentionable 10-0 aggregate after two matches.
Chelsea’s fate cast them a slightly more bumpy road. In September, in a flex of the Chelsea of old’s muscle, they took down Liverpool, which some might say that the Reds have benefited from that result. The next round against Derby County was a very fortunate series of events. Of the five goals scored in the 3-2 affair, four of them were off the final touch of a Derby player. The two own goals saw the Blues onto the quarterfinals against Bournemouth. Little did they know the night would be set full of theatrics as a youthful Chelsea side conceded a 90′ minute equalizer only to see outcast Alvaro Morata snag a winner to send them on. On the flip side of Manchester City’s lucky draw, Spurs were the match for Chelsea. In the first leg, Harry Kane’s penalty, which Tottenham supporters can thank VAR review system for, set apart the two teams. Although, the second half of the game was all Chelsea, as Spurs’ defense had to sit in and absorb the pressure of Callum Hudson-Odoi and Eden Hazard. Approaching the second leg, considering the momentum of the last matchup and injury ridden Spurs’ status, the Blues rightfully felt favorites. And so they were. Two first-half goals saw Chelsea into a quick lead until second-stringer Fernando Llorente knotted it up on aggregate at 2-2. The biggest lottery in soccer was next — penalties. Kepa Arrizabalaga was the man of the night, being the advantage needed to send the Blues to face City in the finals.
The Final: What to expect?
On February 24, Chelsea will play in their eighth League Cup final, while it will be the defending champion Manchester City’s second. For the fifth time in six years, the final will consist of at least one of the two sides.
In light of recent transfers and with an understanding that there may be more moves to come, it will be expected that the team sheets will match up pretty evenly come final day. Both teams have six games in between, including a league match against each other, to coincide FA Cup and European duty. Not much should be put on their league match up, in terms of replicating the cup match, as the atmospheres and the short-term gain will be massively different. If we wanted two title-winning pedigree teams, we got it. Though they both took different paths, should they be lifting the first silverware of the season, both squads will need their best foot forward.